I’ve been spending a bit of time the past couple of days thinking about mission, and what it means–what it looks like–to be missional. Particularly, I’ve been asking God, basically, “What next?” We’ve been getting settled in this new place for a year and a half, and I still have this desire to do some sort of missional work in the creative community–but I’ve been soul searching about the right approach, what the next steps are (if any). I’ve been trying to find words to verbalize things felt deep in the soul, where people could maybe understand them. And frankly, I’ve felt a little lost–not in the sense of losing faith, but in the sense of trying to think about mission outside the boundaries of traditional church, when all I’ve done previously has happened within those boundaries.
Just this morning, I think something really has registered with me that’s going to deeply inform our direction in the days ahead. It’s not a new concept, but it’s like it “clicked” with me–like someone switched on a light. An “a-ha” moment.
Okay, you get the idea. 🙂
One thing I’ve been trying to do is get back to the basics of mission, particularly the mission of Christ. If Jesus set an example for us to follow–and I believe He did–then we can learn the correct approach to mission by looking at what He did as well as what He taught.
So how did Jesus approach His mission? He became one of us.
Jesus did not come to earth in a blaze of glory, riding on a white horse, His deity apparent all over the place. (That would be the SECOND coming, and that hasn’t happened at press time.) Instead, as the Bible indicates, He laid down His heavenly glory and took the form of a man. A regular human being, just like us. We call this the “incarnation.” The incarnational approach to mission has already been talked about a lot in missional circles, and like I said, I’m familiar with it and seek to embrace it.
But there’s more. You see, Jesus came as a man–but not as a grown man. He didn’t launch His mission as the self-proclaimed expert of all things spiritual. He came into this world the same way we all do–as a baby. A helpless, vulnerable, non-potty-trained baby. He didn’t come with all the answers–that came later. Jesus came to us needy. He came to us needing to be fed, changed, nurtured, loved, trained–all that stuff that kids need in order to grow.
Talk about humbling oneself.
My family and I have been immersing ourselves in the local creative community pretty much since we got here, because we understood the necessity of becoming part of the existing community. What I hadn’t really seen before now–but God did, and has already been orchestrating–is that we are coming as babies. We’re not coming with the answers; we’re coming with needs.
I probably see this playing out most right now with The Wild One. She has totally laid down her personal aspirations for “ministry” probably more than I have–she has been able to totally empty herself. The artistic circle she found herself in saw her not as a pastor or spiritual expert, but as someone who is hungry to learn art–who has always wanted to do it, but never had the chance or the resources, and who has great potential. As a result, they’ve totally taken her under their wing and begun to teach her to paint–and she’s making great progress. And because this group loves the arts in general, and because they are already so open, they’ve adopted the rest of our family right along with her. We’re not on the giving end–not right now. We’re the needy ones. We’re the babies.
I can now see this setting up the same way with the music scene. I’ve developed a rapport with this music community by covering the local scene as a freelance writer, and I’ve made a lot of friends. But the truth is, while I do know a few things about how to encourage young artists, in order to do what I really want to do in music–I’m going to have to become the baby. I’m going to have to ask people half my age how to go about booking shows, who to talk to about getting publishing deals, and so on. I may have to collaborate with others in order to polish my songwriting skills and aim them in a new direction. I’m not really the expert here–I’m the needy one.
I’m beginning to see that at least in our case, to be truly incarnational in our approach requires us to become as infants in this community–not just to be one of them, but to grow up as one of them. And with this fresh understanding of things, I actually have a new perspective on the past 10 years of our lives.
There’s a place in the Bible where it talks about Jesus emptying Himself in order to come to earth as a man. Jesus stripped Himself of His heavenly glory in order to embark on this mission. I don’t know how that felt for Him–but I do know some of what it feels like to be stripped. The entire time we lived in Tulsa, we were being stripped. We obviously weren’t being stripped of heavenly glory or deity (we never had those things). But we were being stripped of our pastoral or clerical prestige, so to speak. We were also being stripped of mindsets, of wrong assumptions, of wrong motives, and pretty much of everything we thought “ministry” was. By the time we got here to Denver, we were almost completely deconstructed and undone. Starting over–as babies.
It sure looks like God has been setting us up.
This whole theme about becoming as a child has deep ramifications, not just in mission, but in other ways as well. Didn’t Jesus repeatedly say that we need to come to the Father as little children? This post could get really long rambling about that–so I’ll save that for another time. But this understanding has really caused a lot of the fog to clear for me. It’s showing me that it’s okay, even necessary, to step into this mission not as the expert, but as the student. It’s showing me that it’s okay, even necessary, to embrace small beginnings. I think God has a long-term plan here, and apparently we’ve been within that plan for awhile now.
On a personal level, I think I’ve struggled for a long time with my deconstruction. Although I’ve definitely been thankful for the sense of freedom (and wouldn’t ever want to go back into bondage), I also have felt such a sense of loss because at the very least I had a strong sense of direction, and when things dismantled, I felt there was nothing to replace what I’d had. I think I’m finally going to be okay with that now. I think I can fully embrace this time and place, knowing that the previous stripping was necessary in order to step into this mission in the right way.
Jesus came to us as a baby, and He changed the world. I believe that if I embrace the same idea, enter this mission as a baby, and have patience with the process, I can at least make a positive difference.
Which is pretty much all I wanted in the first place.
Permanent link to this post
(1248 words, 1 image, estimated 5:0 mins reading time)